Hill Farming, seasons, Wales

Before the Storm

It’s a misty autumn morning with dew on the pasture where Aby is getting to know her new companion.

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The other sheep (including her old friend Twts) have gone to meet the ram.  Aby, who had retired from lambing, has a new friend to keep her company  — no sheep is happy to be alone (although this particular, hand reared one might well prefer to be back in the kitchen with the dog and me).

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That’s why she looks so grumpy — to top it all, the new friend (who is very undersized) is getting extra rations which is very irritating to Aby who is on a diet!  New ewe lamb who is from a neighbour’s farm, is still nameless but was an orphan like Aby, so is very bold with humans but still not at ease with Pedro, the dog.  She stamps her feet in an unfriendly way when he comes near — it’s early days.

As the sun appears over the hill the whole area is bathed in amber light reflected from the dying bracken.

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The woods are glowing with new colors.

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and dew, on spider silk, drapes the dead stalks of yarrow in gossamer.

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and polishes the mellowing bramble.

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Climate, Wales

The Year Rolls On

Unremittingly — can you smell that mintyness that rises from the damp litter of fallen leaves?

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We’ve enjoyed a long and beautiful Autumn.  The beech woods have been aflame and the more sober oaks have held on to their russet leaves until just a few days ago.

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But now suddenly, in one night, everything is changed!

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The sky has cleared and the temperature has plummeted.  At night the stars in our black night are stunning and the all-day frost in the hill’s shade makes the morning seem moonlit. You can see the cold and smell the cleanness of the air (and stub your toe on a frozen mole hill).

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As the low winter sun peeps over the hill and stretches over the ground, where it touches it brings back life and colour.

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Ecology

A Walk in the Woods

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It’s a misty morning in Mid-Wales, the air is still and the leaves are silent and the weather has been unusually dry so even the streams are muted.

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There is a distant sound of dogs beating distant woodland for foxes — there are no shots but the sheep are wary and cluster in the gully on the opposite side of the valley.

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See how this landscape rises all around you carrying the sheep and cows into the tops of the trees.

Trannon Oak Woods

At the edges of the wood where the tree canopy is less and bracken grows the first tentative frosts are turning the woodland floor amber and, as the giant branched fronds die back, the undergrowth of shamrocks, covered since May, bask anew in the pale daylight.

Shamrocks

This is the season for fruiting fungi.

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Oak Woodland fungi

Soon the weather will change and a heavy frost will let loose the seasonal showers of  leaves that fall like snow and drift and swirl in the spicy air. For the time being they hang on.

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Hill Farming, lifestyle

Squirrelling Days

The day length is now critical and our harvesting and squirrelling hormones are at an all-time annual high as we prepare for a long wet winter.  This, according to Islwyn who remembers many summers, has been the best ever, so we know that when the rain returns it will punish us!

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The ewe-lambs have gone — up the hill to Deryn, who bought our lambs at market last year and was pleased to buy them privately this year. She and her husband cross their ewes with a commercial meaty ram to produce fat-lambs for market but need our hardy type to replace their breeding stock.

On the day we take them up, three of their number escape onto the lane, Deryn and I give chase — both ladies of a certain age — as they pass the gate to one of her fields her own lambs stampede down to the gate to see her, led by a tame (bottle fed) lamb — she flings open the gate and lets them all out onto the road where they mill around and sniff at our reticent three who stop in astonishment — as does the middle aged man in the BMW, who had been giving it a burst along the lane.  Deryn turns and walks confidently back to the yard and all the lambs follow without question including the three escapees.  I think lady shepherds often do things very differently from their male counterparts and I am very happy that our ewe-lambs are going to be talked to (they know a little Welsh) and are not going to have to deal with shouting and sticks and snapping dogs in their new home.

The ram-lambs are big and vigorous this year and nearly ready for market.  They have horns this year which has reminded me why we always got a hornless ram to serve our ewes in the past —

Prize Ram-Lamb

Prize Ram-Lamb

— wrestling these little buggers in the hot weather in shorts and a vest (me, that is) to trim them and worm them and insert their ear tags has left me black and blue with strange linear bruises and abrasions on my chest where I clutch their heads to my bosom (linear lesions equated to ‘abuse’ in my previous life).  Catching them is not easy —

Fast Forward

Fast Forward

— the last seven or eight are proving almost impossible and we are reduced to picking them off one-by-one in a makeshift trap.   We are  eating our lunch by the back-door basking in the winter sunshine, with the cats and dog reclining around us.

Guilty cats.

Guilty cats.

We  hear the sound of  horn against  galvanized trough — we stop eating and jump up, me and the galvanized husband, and we rush the 400 yards to tippy-toe the last few steps under cover of the hedge to slam shut the gate, trapping one,two or three ram lambs. After worming them and tagging them we release them into the field with the done-ones and return to our empty plates — the cats are nowhere to be seen and the dog wags his tail at our return.

When left alone for a moment Alan prepares to cut down another tree.  He has declared war on Leylandii and is muttering ‘biomass’ — some of ours are 15 meters high and still growing and we have to fell them before they get too big to handle which, in truth,  they have already!

Biomass!

Biomass!

We rope them and cut them at 4M high — they’ll soon green up with ivy and honeysuckle.  This is as high as a man who is probably not as stable as he was, can reach on a wobbly ladder with an anxious wife clutching its base, a chain saw that frequently won’t start and, when it does, cuts out at altitude.  There is cursing and intermittent roaring of the saw, punctuated by fretting of the wife.  But all is rewarded by that sound of cracking wood and breaking branches, the exhilaration as we run for our lives, and that mighty thud…  ‘Where’s the dog!’

It’s okay, he’s here!’

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Then the work really starts as we haul the cut trees to our woodland area to strip the trunks for firewood and burn the brushwood — a reassuring smoke signal to our neighbours that we have survived another day.

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The midges have gone so at dusk I can abandon my kitchen with its bubbling cauldron of blackberries, its steeping elderberries and glugging wine jars to  pick damsons to the rhythm of a pecking bird, harvesting nuts from a nearby hazel tree where there is  the rustle  of a squirrel filling its pouch then hitting the ground running, undulating along under the hedge then shooting up another tree.  They are even busier than we are.

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